Carsten Norgaard as Rudolph Wegener in The Man in the High Castle (© Amazon Prime / IMDB)

Carsten Norgaard: The Mystery Man in ‘The Man in the High Castle’

It's tough playing a Nazi with a conscience, but veteran actor Carsten Norgaard not only lives up to the challenge presented in Amazon's The Man in the High Castle, but stretches beyond what's expected of him.

The Man in the High Castle
Frank Spotnitz
Amazon Studios
15 April 2015

On 15 January 2015, Amazon debuted the pilot for The Man in the High Castle as part of its series development program. The episode became the most watched in the program’s history and Amazon greenlit nine more episodes, which were released almost 11 months later. The series takes place in an alternate reality in which the Allies lost WWII, and the Axis Powers rule the planet. Rather than taking viewers to the current day, perhaps in order to make the idea of the future even more terrifying, the series rather takes place in the Mad Men years (1962 to be precise).

Populated with characters that exist on the borderline between paranoia and idealism, the show keeps as many secrets from viewers as the characters do from each other. One of the most enigmatic of these people is Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard), a high-rank Nazi officer whose allegiances change with every scene. We see him trading secrets with a Japanese officer, in an attempt to prevent war with Japan. But is he on Japan’s side? Is he working for the Resistance? Is he a Nazi mole?

It helps his cause that he’s played by the exemplary Norgaard, a Danish actor best known to American audiences for his work inSleepy Hollow and for playing the ruthless Coach Wolf Stansson in D2: The Mighty Ducks. He’s the rare actor that can jump from genre to genre making a lasting impression on each, perhaps the popularity of The Man in the High Castle, will lead viewers to discover Norgaard’s melancholy work in the Danish dramedy Rita, which has him playing a character who couldn’t have less in common with Wegener if he tried.

We had a chance to discuss Wegener’s motivations with Norgaard, who also shared his TV viewing habits and spoke about his love of Philip K. Dick.

* * *

The pilot for The Man in the High Castle was the most popular on Amazon’s new series development program. Did you always know you were in something special?

The fact that it was based on the award-winning Philip K. Dick novel, which has been referred to as the crown jewel of the alternative reality, then add Ridley Scott and Frank Spotnitz, that’s a pretty formidable trifecta. So whatever I say about my expectation nearly doesn’t matter, because expectations were high in general. You then add Amazon and their commitment and freedom bestowed on the project, and seeing the pilot I definitely felt it was something special.

You’ve mentioned being a Philip K. Dick fan before. Which were your favorites? Which of his characters did you see yourself wanting to play?

Apart from The Man in the High Castle, Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau, I remember when I first saw Blade Runner I was taken by Ridley Scott’s vision and how visually stunning the world he created was, along with a rich set of characters. Phillip K. Dick’s universe is full of great screen characters I’m sure most actors would love to play, Roy Batty being one of those that would be a fun character to play. Rutger Hauer did such an awesome job.

Do you find that being in a show about the Nazis, forces you to address uncomfortable topics about European history?

I think everybody sometimes thinks about what if in all aspects of life. The “what if” in the Amazon alternative reality series The Man in the High Castle, it’s probably the ultimate what if! -“What if” the Allied forces had lost WWll and the Axis Powers had moved on to conquer The United States and split it in two. What would our world look like today, or rather in 1962? What would happen to freedom and freedom of speech as we know it?

It’s both provocative and thought-provoking that explores the impact to our freedoms if we had lost WWll.

As an actor, why do you think that stories about WWII and the Nazis continue being so popular with the public? Which films or TV programs would you say best capture WWII for you?

WWII and the Nazis has had a huge impact on the world, so many people gave their lives for the freedom we have today, still so many untold stories, that combined with the visual imagery that is so embedded in people’s minds and in our history. I think Steven Spielberg with Saving Private Ryan sparked a new renaissance and interest in the period because of the way it was shot and its realness. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds was awesome in an alternative way and HBO’s Band of Brothers all helped capture and keep the popularity of WWII current.

Your character is often referred to as “a Nazi with a conscience”. Taking into consideration thesis like Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” and other philosophical discussions, do you think “Nazi” and “conscience” belong together?

Rudolph Wegener has turned a corner, unlike Smith who’s still in denial. Wegener is a complex character and deeply flawed, but deep inside he is a good man who has done terrible things. The guilt for his actions weighs heavily upon him and made a mess of his family life.

You, could say Wegener is haunted by the atrocities he committed on behalf of the Reich. His efforts to avert war between the Japanese and Nazi empires is his attempt at atonement or redemption.

Before Castle you did Rita, which is completely different in terms of genre, how was it to go from a comedy to such a tough drama?

Yes, you’re at opposite ends of the spectrum, so to speak, with a different set of challenges, which I guess is what actors are looking for and blessed to get if the opportunities present themselves. Rita, is a contemporary dramedy with an edge, a school teacher’s fight for her kids. It deals with social problems as well as relationship problems in a very straight forward in your face kind of way.

Your chemistry with Mille Dinesen on that show was such a delight. How was it to work with her?

Thank you, I’m glad you feel that way. It was fun working with Mille. We really had a great synergy playing each other’s first loves who, in midlife, get a second chance. The little flame had never really been extinguished and a larger fire grows.

It’s the second time we worked together, actually. A different network a few years earlier had paired us in another hit Danish series called Nynne.

You’re fairly active on social media, why do you find it important to connect with your fans through Twitter?

Actually my manager encouraged me a year and half ago to get going with it and connect with the fans, but I still consider myself a novice in the social media field.

What’s your stand on binge-watching? Do you prefer consuming all at once or do you moderate yourself when it comes to enjoying the things you like?

A convert of binge-watching now, for sure. Never thought I would be but the whole premise of watching at your own leisure and discretion, it’s like the modern way of reading a book. I think shows like The Man in the High Castle, Narcos, House of Cards etc. are really well served by this.

Last but not least, who would you say is tougher, Coach Stansson or Rudolph Wegener?

Good question! [ laughs] Never thought of that. I think both would be considered tough in their own way. Coach Stansson probably has the raw physical and imposing edge here I would say, whereas Rudolph Wegener is more mentally strong being a double agent, sacrificing a lot in trying to avert another war.